Today I am going to be sharing a very personal and dark part of my life that I’ve thankfully overcome in recent times. I feel it’s important to be transparent on this blog and show that these things do happen to mother’s, especially first-time ones.
What made my baby blues so very difficult, was the great sorrow and confusion it brought me. For someone that always wanted to become a mother, I couldn’t understand in the beginning why I was so depressed. Now, on the other side of it, I can narrow it down to four different factors (plus a lot of hormonal changes):
1.) I had a traumatic birth
If you follow this blog, you’ve probably already read about my birth story and how traumatic it was. It basically went from bad to worse resulting in an excruciating 36 hour labour and an emergency c-section. You can check it out here. In the first month or so of Abigail’s life I was still in shock. Even though she was perfectly healthy, I kept tormenting myself with thoughts that she could’ve died. I could’ve died. It all just felt like a big nightmarish blur that I had no control over. I was recovering from abdominal surgery and just as we had returned from the hospital, adorable newborn in tow, I developed mastitis from breastfeeding. I was weak and unable to do anything for our baby except feed her. This was supposed to be the most beautiful time of my life and I couldn’t get out of bed. It was so debilitating and scary. I know it sounds silly, but I blamed myself for the mastitis. I felt like I could’ve prevented it if I had just paid attention to my blocked milk ducts. As for the birth, I understand that things don’t always go according to plan, but every single moment I had envisioned went sideways. I didn’t get to hold my daughter as soon as she was born. Instead I held the surgeon’s hand whilst I convulsed on the table for thirty minutes from the strong pain medication. I didn’t get to give that final, rewarding push. Instead I suffered in agony for over 24 hours only to be told that my baby girl was in danger and needed to be cut out immediately. My pregnancy had been so smooth, but the birth was downright terrifying. It played a huge part in my depression. Now I can reflect and be proud of the struggle. I wear my scar as a badge of honour for what I went through and would go through again and again for our baby girl.
2.) I had a very unsettled newborn
Surprisingly, Abigail didn’t have colic…but she might has well have! I knew babies cried prior to giving birth. I knew that it wasn’t all wine and roses, but what we experienced in the first three months was beyond challenging. Abi was a screamer. I’m talking high-pitched, prolonged bouts of screaming. She would scream in the car, in the pram, around family, friends, strangers, in the street, in her cot, lying down…you name it! It just didn’t seem normal. I would see other mother’s out with their friends, sipping coffee and pushing their newborns around and felt a strong sense of envy. In the early days, I could barely take Abi down the road before she would begin wailing until she physically lost her voice. She actually lost her voice several times from the over-exertion of howling. At this time, I had begun attending my local mother’s group, just to get out of the house. I only ended up attending 4/7 sessions because Abigail would scream and scream until the nurse would pick her up and try to calm her down. This happened in front of all the other mother’s who had babies that happily sucked on their dummies and napped each session. They gave me so many pitying looks in that time I wanted to scream myself. Mine was the only difficult one (bless her) and she refused to take a dummy. I know it sounds terrible, but I was so embarrassed and I hated disrupting the sessions. We would have speakers come and give lectures and I had to take Abigail out of the room because her screaming would overpower the poor woman’s voice. It was so depressing for me. I was already feeling such cabin fever from being at home every single day and not being able to do one social thing without it turning into a nightmare brought me down even further. Thankfully, once Abi passed three months, she became a much happier baby. I’m not saying she doesn’t have her moments now but I can easily take her out for walks, drives, grocery shopping and meet-ups with friends without her losing her marbles. When you’re in it, it can feel like forever and you are just surviving day by day but let me assure you, as someone who is on the other side, you do get through it. I promise.
3.) I developed post-natal insomnia
There is a reason why sleep deprivation is the worst form of torture. Human beings NEED sleep. The ironic part of this post however is that Abigail, from the moment she arrived home from hospital, was an excellent sleeper. This had nothing to do with her. It was me that couldn’t sleep. I don’t know how or why it started, but after a couple of months, I struggled so hard to sleep. She would sleep eight hours and I would lie awake for eight hours. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t return to the good sleeper I was before giving birth. It was all mental for me. It was like I knew I only had a certain amount of hours I needed to get before I had to look after a baby all day and that pressure screwed with my head. To be perfectly honest, I am just now recovering from insomnia and Abigail is nearly 8 months old. I remember staying awake the entire night and crying all the next day because I was so exhausted, but hadn’t been able to sleep. If you’ve ever gone through this, I empathise. It is just awful. One afternoon, when I was at my wits end, I called PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) and cried on the phone to this lovely lady. She told me that I wouldn’t be able to function as a mother or as a human being if I didn’t get sleep and urged me to take sleeping pills immediately. I called the Monash Board of Chemists and spoke to my doctor to ensure that the pills they prescribed me were 1000% safe for breastfeeding. I was told they were but to be mindful of addiction. When I began taking sleeping pills, I was out like a light. I would sleep the whole night and actually feel like a normal person again in the morning. The problem was, I became mildly addicted to them and started to struggle sleeping without them. I began taking them if it was a hot night or if I had only slept 6 instead of 8 hours the night before. I found plenty of excuses which began to worry my husband. In the end, I gave the really addictive ones to my mother to safeguard and started drinking a mild herbal St John’s Wort tea before bed every single night. I am still drinking it and it is helping so much. I haven’t had a sleeping pill in a while now and don’t feel the need for one.
4.) I had no time for myself
You hear a lot of nurses, doctors and people in general tell you how important it is to get time for yourself after a baby is born, but that is always easier said than done. I had made the decision to breastfeed Abigail exclusively (and I was discouraged from expressing due to my oversupply which could lead to recurring mastitis) so I understand that was on me…but that didn’t make it any harder. In the beginning, Abi fed regularly so I couldn’t go off on my own for a little while because she needed to eat. I was on constant call. I was exhausted (from insomnia), traumatised & sore (from the birth), miserable (from the screaming) and anxious (because I felt so trapped). One morning, a couple of months in, my mum offered to watch Abi whilst I took a bath. It was my first moment of just me-time. I was only in there for half an hour but oh boy was it the best bath I had ever taken! I read and relaxed and felt so happy I wanted to cry. After speaking to PANDA, the woman on the phone urged me to ask for more help. She said that depression can really escalate if the mother doesn’t carve out more time for herself. I felt guilty because Abi was not an easy baby to mind, but as she grew and could go longer without feeds, I began to take a walk here, have a bath there and do little things for myself. Let me tell you, it has made all of the difference in the world. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Now I’m still exclusively breastfeeding, but Abi takes long two hour naps twice a day so I use that time to read, blog, play games and watch Netflix. On the weekends, my husband encourages me to do things. I had a lovely pedicure recently and it was the best.
So as you can see from the points listed above, I had quite a hard time in the beginning but I’m definitely on the other side of it now and much happier. Did I have postnatal depression? I don’t believe so. I never once thought of harming Abi or myself nor did I find it difficult to bond with her. I’m certain it was baby blues. Plus, never underestimate what hormones and the adjustment of becoming a first-time parent can do. Nobody can truly prepare you for motherhood but they also sugarcoat it way too much. Having a baby is ridiculously romanticised. Yes it’s wonderful, yes it’s magical, but it’s also friggin hard! It changes your relationship with your partner, it consumes your life and it is one big unpredictable wave from the moment they emerge. Also, I know this goes without saying, but despite every tear shed, every bit of hardship and darkness, I love my daughter with all of my heart and soul and I would not change any of it. I never once wished that I hadn’t had her or resented her. She is truly my greatest accomplishment and the most beautiful little girl in the whole world. It was an extremely dark time in my life but it made me more resilient, a better mother and a stronger person. I will end this post with a final plea. If you are having similar experiences or just need to talk, please reach out to whatever services are available in your corner of the world and seek help. PANDA were fantastic; I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. Even if you don’t feel comfortable chatting to strangers, open up to relatives, partners, friends, your doctor…whomever! Parenthood is not an easy ride and we need all the support we can get. Make time for yourself, schedule dates with your spouse, do whatever you can to get quality sleep (minus the addiction) and know that you aren’t a bad mother/father for saying this is so much harder and un-enjoyable than you thought it would be. We can love our children to the nth degree without loving every single part of the process and that doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us human.
Thank you for reading,
Peace & Love xoxo